The Army has awarded a contract to General Atomics for full-rate production of 19 Improved Gray Eagle (IGE) unmanned aerial systems, the company has announced. The systems will be delivered by September 2018.
General Atomics also manufactures the highly acclaimed Predator and larger Reaper, both of which are operated by the Air Force.
According to General Atomics, “IGE is a next-generation advanced derivative of the Army’s mission-proven Gray Eagle UAS that has accumulated over 228,000 flight hours since 2008.” While the Gray Eagleand Improved Gray Eagle are very similar in terms of air speed, flights ceiling and payload, they differ in endurance. The IGE’s endurance capability is almost double that of the Gray Eagle—48 hours to 25 hours respectively—though the Army lists the Gray Eagle’s endurance at greater than 30 hours in its UAS Roadmap.
The Gray Eagle is weaponized, capable of carrying four Hellfire missiles. The IGE will deliver “improved, game-changing capabilities that will perform ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] collection and close air support of ground forces through longer persistence, a variety of sensor and weapons payloads, and extended range that affords the ability to operate from safe locations and transit into areas of conflict,” General Atomics said.
Since there are relatively few differences in software and operation, the IGE can be easily integrated with existing Gray Eagle units.
As the Defense Department seeks to increase the number of daily drone orbits, or combat air patrols, by nearly 50 percent by 2019, DOD will be relying on the Army, Special Operations Command and, to a smaller degree, contractors to pick up the extra slack from the Air Force, which will operate 60 CAPs. By 2019, DOD wants 90 CAPS to address the gaps in aerial ISR with threats seeming to continue to proliferate.